Diabetic Retinopathy Diagnosis

Because diabetic retinopathy often produces no symptoms—even in its advanced stages—and because early treatment of advanced retinopathy can usually stop vision loss, people with diabetes need to visit their ophthalmologist regularly.

If you have type 1 diabetes, you should begin seeing an ophthalmologist for annual eye exams no later than five years after diabetes is diagnosed. Because significant retinopathy may be present at the time of diagnosis in people with type 2 diabetes, an examination by an ophthalmologist is advised immediately and at least annually thereafter.

More frequent exams are needed for people with more advanced retinopathy.

At the examination, the ophthalmologist dilates the pupils with eyedrops and directly views the retina with an ophthalmoscope. The ophthalmologist will look for signs of edema (accumulation of fluid), fluid leakage, new blood vessel growth, bleeding, and other abnormalities.

Because the eyedrops cause the eyes to be extremely sensitive to light, you should bring a pair of sunglasses with you and may want to ask someone to drive you home afterward. Fluorescein angiography may also be used to examine the retina for blood vessel changes. Ocular coherence tomography (OCT) is a newer device that takes images of the retina and can measure the degree of retinal thickening or macular edema.

Publication Review By: Susan B. Bressler, M.D., Harry A. Quigley, M.D., Oliver D. Schein, M.D., M.P.H.

Published: 03 Mar 2011

Last Modified: 11 Oct 2011